This letter was written by Pvt. Nathaniel L. Willard (1844-1932) of Co. F, 3rd New Hampshire Infantry. He served from August 1861 to August 1864.
Pvt. Willard gives an account of the sinking of the ironclad monitor USS Weehawken on 6 December 1863. Willard attributed the sinking to a collision with a submerged wreck. However, a court of inquiry subsequently concluded that she simply took on too much water in a mild storm after carelessly storing too much heavy ammunition in a forward compartment. The monitor sunk in less than five minutes, bow-first, in thirty feet of water, resulting in the loss of four officers and 27 crewmen.
Pvt. Willard also tells his friend of the execution of a deserter named Joseph Lane. The $500 bounty jumper was shot by a firing squad as he knelt upon his coffin on the lower beach of Norris Island, in full view of all the troops — a “just sentence” wrote Willard, “to one and all that deserts from the stars & stripes.”
Willard’s letter is addressed to his friend, Joseph Harviell who resided in Londonderry, Rockingham County, New Hampshire. I believe this was Joseph Harvell, Jr. (1818-1888), the son of Liuet. Joseph Harvell (1788-1838) and Mary Lund Underwood (1797-1843).
Addressed to Mr. Joseph Harviell, Esq., Londonderry, New Hampshire
Morris Island, South Carlina
Your letter came to hand the twenty-fifth. Was pleased to hear you and your family were all well.
You wrote you was pleased to get a few lines from me. I must say I was overjoyed with such a good long letter from you. It brought to mind those friends which I left at the North hoping soon to meet again.
My health is good which is one of God’s greatest blessings. The health of our regiment is good — only eight sick in the hospital and not one of those confined to his bed. The weather very cold and windy. The sand blows most of the time. It drifts most as bad as the snow on the South road. I have not seen snow but two times since I left the North. The first winter a few flakes. The second was enough to make a snow ball. What will be this winter is yet to be seen.
We are all in good spirits — have only eight months longer to serve before going north and how we all are wishing to see this cursed war close before that time. How we would then grasp the hand of our friend and shake it with a will, knowing we should not have to part on such a cursed expedition again. But I am afraid it will not be. If not, I shall volunteer my services to fight for our country until the rebellion is wiped from our land.
This model city called Charleston, I fear, will be a hard one to take. It is so nearly surrounded by water that it will be very slow walk — sieging from one island to another. [They] have bomb proofs that is safe to stay in. Shot and shell cannot hurt them, or it is so with our troops keep up a heavy cannonading on both sides, day and night. Can see the shells streaming through the air at all times of night. It is very seldom one of our folks gets hurt of late.
Had a little skirmish with our friend Rebs at Stono Inlet 25th. Took two pieces of artillery and 20 prisoners. our loss: 2 killed, 5 wounded. Accordance will happen among the best.
One of our monitors sunk last week. Crew drowned. It happened in the harbor close to our camp about 3 o’clock P.M. She runs onto a old wreck and went down very quick. No assistance could be rendered them. Most of their bodies has washed ashore and has been buried. Poor fellows! to die such a death in the presence of thousands but could not save them. Another sad occurrence.
A man publicly shot — one of our give hundred dollars subs. [He] deserted [and] was picked up by our outside picket guard. He then tried to palm himself off as a rebel [but] could not make it work. [There] was too many that knew him [that] came on the same boat with him from New York. He had to stand a court marshal and receive his sentence which was to be publicly shot which was a just sentence to one and all that deserts from the stars & stripes. It is a very poor place here to desert. The reason that he wanted to leave was to get back to New York to sell himself again. Such is a sample of the subs we get in our regiment.
Oh how I would like to see you all. Think I could tell you more about the Sunny South in five minutes than I could write in two hours.
I guess I will close this. I wrote more than you can read. Please give my love to your family and all of my friends. You wrote you would answer this letter soon er than you did the other one. I shall take you at your word. Please consign this letter to the flames as soon as you read it and you will occur a favor.
Please accept the kind wishes of your friend, — N. L. W.